Friendly, upbeat, helpful co-workers can ease the burden of difficult, stressful projects. But what can you do about chronically cranky co-workers who make you wish for a snow day or a hurricane?
Joe is one of these toxic bullies. He’s the scourge of his office. It’s hard to tell if he’s unaware of his co-workers’ dismay when they see him or if he enjoys inflicting pain and abuse, and getting his way because they’re afraid of him. He’s always negative, always angry, always complaining. He rants about “stupid” co-workers who’ve offended him. He vents about the “idiots” who run the company and the country. In any season, the weather’s always rotten. He “bah, humbugs” any warmth offered him. He’ll never be satisfied.
In summer the “Queen Bees” come out in force. Every neighborhood has at least one.
For example, Jill was jealous of Mary. All the other women in the neighborhood liked Mary. Her home was always open; she always had treats; her kids are fun and shared their toys and games. The nicer Mary was, the more the other neighbors liked her, the more jealous Jill was.
Jill made excuses about what Mary had done that made her dislike Mary, but underneath it was simple envy that turned to hate. In Jill’s mind there was room for only one queen bee in the hive.
Jill’s venom came out in sneaky, backstabbing tactics.
She tried turning the other moms against Mary. She whispered in one person’s ear that Mary liked someone else better and had given that person better gifts or had brought better food to that person’s picnic. In another ear she whispered some malicious and catty things that Mary had supposedly said. In a third ear she whispered that Mary thought that the woman’s children were stupid and nasty.
It took a while for Mary to realize that false rumors and malicious gossip about her were being circulated and even longer to recognize the source. The neighborhood had been a friendly place in which all families got together, but it soon become a tense battleground in which previously friendly women become suspicious of each other. Husbands were eventually drawn into the conflict.
Jill was in her element. She knew how to drive wedges between people and also how to bring people together into a clique with her as the head. She used Mary as the target and scapegoat for her clique.
At first Mary took it personally. She assumed that she must have done something wrong to offend Jill. Stress, anxiety, self-doubt and negative self-talk soon decreased her confidence and self-esteem. She tried explaining her good motives in response to each charge that Jill leveled at her, but she could never satisfy Jill that she wanted to be friends.
Ruling the hive was Jill’s personal agenda and she wouldn’t let Mary remain in the way.
Eventually, Mary went outside her comfort zone. She stopped being reluctant about creating tension or conflict or making a scene in public. She decided to shine a light on Jill’s gossip, innuendo and lies. One at a time, starting with her closest friends who were aware of Jill’s tactics, Mary clarified the situation and repeated what Jill had been saying about them. Then she got them together so they could compare notes.
She then spoke one to one with every other woman in the neighborhood.
But that wasn’t enough. When she caught Jill in blatant lies, she made them public at neighborhood gatherings. Mary was always sweet and smiling when she asked Jill to clarify what she had said about one of the other women or about their children.
Jill was surprised and unprepared. She’d always been able to hide in the shadows because women where she had lived previously had been too polite to create conflict and tension in public. Once Mary begun shining a light on Jill’s actions, other women began noticing what Jill had done to them. They noticed how afraid they’d begun to feel about offending Jill and started figuring out why that had happened.
At first, the neighborhood split into camps. Over time more and more women moved into renewed friendship with Mary. They found that they couldn’t stay in the middle. Jill always trapped them into some shabby, hostile plot. Jill’s camp grew smaller and smaller. Mary’s good character and friendliness won out. Jill’s controlling, sneaky tactics become more apparent.
That was last summer. By Christmas, the balance had swung in Mary’s favor. Jill and her family moved away.
Leading up to this summer, the women are planning more family activities. Tension has decreased, but it will take the rest of the summer before the camaraderie gets close to what they had before Jill moved in. Maybe one more family will still move.
Stealth bullies like Jill can be difficult to detect and even harder to stop. Most of their targets have to go through a self-bullying, self-questioning phase before they realize that they’re not at fault, that they didn’t do anything wrong to start the abuse.
Just as the predatory stepfather has become a cliché, the wicked, greedy stepmother and the colluding father have also become an archetype because so many times the characterization is accurate. So what can you do when your father marries a grasping, bullying, uncaring woman when you’re young? How can you stop such a bully when your father marries one late in life and she wants to get her hands on the family fortune and your most cherished sentimental items?
Of course there are many situations in which a stepmother has loved and enriched the life of her stepdaughter. See “Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations,” by Georgina Howell for one famous example.
But when you’re young and an evil stepmom moves in, with our without her own children, and treats you like Cinderella, you have only one court of appeal, your father. If he won’t see the truth and rectify his mistake, you have only a few options:
Keep resisting, fighting and rebelling; keep trying to make him see the light.
Fly low; be devious, learn to dissemble, lie and hide in order to minimize the damage.
The first strategy usually has disastrous consequences for children. Typically, fathers never get it. Sometimes relatives might defend you, but they can rarely open your blinded father’s eyes. For many reasons, none important for your later life, your father typically won’t accept or value that you’re being mistreated and he won’t get rid of the witch.
Kids who use this strategy usually end up ruining their lives because they’ve only prepared themselves to resist, fight and rebel. All their energy goes into trying to get justice from a stone. They don’t prepare themselves to have wonderful careers and lives.
Kids who use the second strategy often succeed in later life. Don’t waste your youth fighting an unwinnable battle. Use your time and effort to develop skills that prepare you for a good career and a great life.
Of course, a bullying stepmom will harass and abuse you whenever she can. She’ll also try to align your father against you. And if she brings her own children into the marriage, she’ll try to shove you out so hers can inherit the love and money. So what? History is full of kids who succeeded despite the unfairness and injustice of such situations.
Since your father is besotted and blinded, there’s little you can do to obtain justice. When you’re young, you can’t understand how a person can do what he’s doing. When you become older and can see the reasons, there’s still little comfort in that understanding.
In this situation, the key to success is an inner one: keep your spirit alive and burning fiercely until you can get away and make your own life. Of course you won’t have the head start you would have if your father had done better for you. So what? That’s not the end of the world.
Of course you’ll get blamed for everything. Your wicked stepmom will heap shame and guilt on you. Don’t accept it. It’s not your fault. Of course, you did some things wrong, but even if you’d been perfect, it wouldn’t have been good enough for her. You were in her way or she needed a scapegoat or she simply liked to inflict pain. The way she treated you was her fault, not yours.
Stay invulnerable to outrageous fortune; verbal, emotional and physical. You aren’t at the mercy of events. Don’t let them crush your spirit. Your spirit can endure and soar. You can create a great life for yourself.
The other typical situation occurs when your father marries late in life and forces a selfish, greedy, narcissistic new wife into your family. Encourage your father to make a prenuptial agreement to protect the family fortune he had before he met her and specify in his will who gets each sentimental treasure from your childhood.
If there’s no written assignment, after your father dies she’ll keep your biological mother’s things and even your most cherished toys. She’ll make you grovel to get any of your father’s items.
Of course she’ll blame you for why she’s mean and keeps things from you. She’ll say that you didn’t communicate lovingly enough with her, you hurt her feelings or she needs and deserves what ever she wants. And she’ll say that she has a right to it all. She needs it to comfort her for her great loss.
She’ll try to divide your siblings into warring camps; if you’re not on her side you’re her enemy for life. She’ll make you crawl in order to get anything, and then she’ll jerk it away just as you think you’re about to get it. It’s as if she enjoys raising your hopes and causing you pain.
Recognize as bullies these manipulative, hypercritical, distorting, demanding, lying toxic people who use their hurt feelings and anger to control everyone else. Notice who has all the responsibility for making her be just or generous; she never accepts any blame, never has to please you, never has to apologize. You always have to please her, accept all the blame for any problem and do all the apologizing.
If you try to negotiate with these bullies, you’ll always give up something in hopes that she’ll reciprocate. But you’ll be disappointed. After you give something up, the negotiations will immediately become about what you must give up next.
Accept that you’re in a war with a bitter, relentless and ruthless enemy who won’t compromise or negotiate in good faith. Fight to get what’s yours. Then turn your back and walk away. She wants to trap your energy for the rest of your life; either pleasing her or fighting her; it doesn’t matter which.